Here is an activity that was given to us by Amy Alsup, a Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota. The activity revolves around a clip from Season 1 of Mad Men located on Youtube and entitled “Peggy and the Gynecologist.”
It is the early 1960s and Peggy Olson begins work at Sterling Cooper advertising agency as a secretary. Her co-worker Joan recommends that Peggy embrace the attention from men and “show a little leg.” In this scene, Peggy visits the gynecologist to get a prescription for contraceptives. The gynecologist warns Peggy not to “be a strumpet” and sleep around just because she is not likely to get pregnant on the pill.
This clip demonstrates stereotypical attitudes about women and sexuality. While women are expected to give men sexual attention, they are at risk of being considered “tramps” if they are rumored to be involved in high amounts of sexual activity. The gynecologist in this scene warns Peggy, “Even in these modern times, easy women don’t find husbands.” The assumption here is twofold: women are expected to give men sexual attention under the radar but still expected to “be proper” and get married. Although it is not Peggy’s intention to immediately “find a husband,” it is expected that this is her goal.
This clip could be used to introduce a lecture, discussion or active learning exercise on the medicalization of women’s sexuality. It could also be used to introduce a broad discussion on gender roles and sexuality in the 1960s.
Active Learning Exercise Idea:
Have students read a book or article about women’s sexuality and social control. Show this video clip in class, and have students write a written reflection addressing the following questions, then discuss with a partner:
(1) How are women’s bodies subject to control today? Is this different or similar than in the past?
(2) Birth control for many women was empowering when it was first prescribed in the 1960s. However, prescriptions were also regulated and controlled in large part by men. How is women’s health regulated today? Are there improvements or new setbacks? What are they?
(3) What is medicalization? How can this concept be used to understand the power dichotomies between doctors and patients? Men and women?
Ideas for texts include:
Conrad, Peter. 1992. “Medicalization and Social Control.” Annual Review of Sociology, 18: 209-32.
Gordon, Linda (2002). The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.